Before First Solar commits to building solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley, they should take a close look at BrightSource Energy's experience there. The Los Angeles Times today posted an insightful article on the costs of building a solar energy project on some of the best desert tortoise habitat in the Mojave Desert. Focused on BrightSource Energy's solar project in the Ivanpah Valley, the LA Times describes communications in which BrightSource Energy complains about the costs of relocating tortoises, saying "[t]his truly could kill the project". Yet it was BrightSource's choice to ignore the warnings of biologists and build on a site noted for the relative abundance of tortoises.
The alarm bells are still ringing and the red lights are flashing, but First Solar is proceeding defiantly with the environmental review process for the Stateline and Silver State South solar projects in the Ivanpah Valley. Conservationists warn that those project sites also contains prime tortoise habitat, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service even recommended that no further solar projects be approved here.
In addition to this looming hurdle, First Solar recently took a hit in the stock market. The company announced higher warranty costs on its solar panels because they are under-performing in hotter climates, according to the Arizona Republic. It's not clear how much efficiency the panels lose in hotter temperatures, but the warranty commitments have cost the company millions of dollars. This would seem to spell a problem for a company preparing to build multiple large projects in America's southwestern deserts.
Secondly, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company for the release of information regarding a Federal loan guarantee that may have benefited private investors, according to the Phoenix Business Journal. Fair disclosure rules require that publicly traded companies that release information to market professionals also ensure the information is disclosed to the public.